Going to Cardinals opener? Here’s what’s new for fans in 2023

Published: Mar. 27, 2023 at 10:15 AM CDT
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QUINCY (WGEM) - St. Louis Cardinals fans making the trek to Busch Stadium for Thursday’s season opener will notice many changes for the 2023 Major League Baseball season.

Beyond the obvious offseason player acquisitions, Cardinals fans can expect to see new rules changes, new concession options and a new face in the broadcast booth when the first pitch is thrown at 3:10 p.m. Thursday against the Toronto Blue Jays.

New faces

First and foremost, for the first time since 2004, legendary catcher Yadier Molina won’t be wearing a Cardinals uniform after retiring after last season. Also missing will be his partner in crime designated hitter Albert Pujols, who also retired after returning to the team for a celebrated one-year farewell tour.

The most celebrated roster additions are catcher Willson Contreras, who left the Chicago Cubs and signed a five-year, $87.5 million free-agent contract and 20-year-old outfielder Jordan Walker. The club announced Saturday that Walker, a top-five overall MLB prospect, had made the team out of spring training.

Rule changes

Major League Baseball is instituting multiple rule changes in 2023. The goal is a more athletic game with less stagnant time, shorter overall game times and hopefully making the stolen base a part of the game again.

Pitch clock: Pitchers and hitters are on the clock between every pitch. With the bases empty there is a 15-second clock, which means batters must be ready to hit eight seconds into it and pitchers must be into their windup before 15 seconds.

Violations of the pitch clock by the hitter result in an automatic strike, by the pitcher an automatic ball. There is a 30-second clock between hitters. The pitch clock with runners on base is 20 seconds. The hitter has one timeout per plate appearance. The pitcher can disengage from the pitching rubber to reset the clock.

Fewer pickoffs: Pitchers are limited to two disengagements per plate appearance, and that applies to pickoffs. If a pitcher attempts two pickoffs and is unsuccessful, then the pitcher must get the baserunner with the third attempt or be called for a balk.

That awards the runner the next base. The goal is to liven up the running game and, after two pickoff tries, encourage the runner to take that larger lead.

Bigger bases: First, second, and third bases have been increased from a 15-inch square to an 18-inch square. That reduces the distance between first and second and second and third by 4½ inches.

The goal is to reduce the time it takes for runners to cover that ground and thus force teams to rethink the risk of trying to steal bases — and try it more often. The larger bases also create more room to help avoid collisions that result in injuries.

No more shifts: Two infielders must be positioned on either side of second base at the time a pitch is released, and all four infielders must have their feet on the dirt.

This outlaws the overloaded shift that often would put a second baseman in shallow right field or three infielders on either side of the base. There are no rules governing the placement of the outfielders.

Concession offerings

Several new concession stands will offer new food options at the stadium.

Mission Taco Joint: Located at Section 150, the stand will offer the restaurant’s most popular item, a mango shrimp taco, along with a vegan soft taco. Two other tacos will only be available at the stadium, a hot-corner chicken taco, which is made with Buffalo sauce and ranch dressing, and a regular taco.

Also on the menu are Mexican street corn on the cob and nachos, which are French fries topped with chili spices, queso, pico de gallo and jalapeños.

Big Chicken: Located at Section 135, the restaurant is a Las Vegas-based fried-chicken sandwich chain partly owned by basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal.

Its signature is a fried breast of hot chicken served between two halves of a maple-bacon doughnut made by Vincent Van Doughnut. The doughnut is dyed Cardinal red.

Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers: Located on the Budweiser Terrace, this particular Freddy’s will be serving steakburgers — or, rather, double steakburgers and double steakburgers with bacon — but not frozen custard although that might come later in the season

The stand will also offer french fries and fried cheese curds.

Broadcast team

The biggest change in the broadcast booth is on the television side where a new play-by-play announcer takes over on a network with a shaky future.

Bally Sports Midwest TV: Former Atlanta Braves broadcaster Chip Caray, the grandson of the legendary Cardinals broadcaster Harry Caray, takes over as the lead play-by-play announcer.

Caray replaces longtime announcer Dan McLaughlin. Analysts will be former Cardinals players Brad Thompson and Jim Edmonds with Jim Hayes as sideline reporter.

KMOX sports director Tom Ackerman will call eight games on BSM as a No. 2 play-by-play guy.

The local TV situation with the bankruptcy proceedings by BSM’s owner Diamond Sports Group is still in the air but MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has said his office will take over if necessary to keep the broadcasts on the air.

KMOX Radio: The Cardinals flagship station will carry all 162 games with John Rooney and Rick Horton alternating play-by-play and analyst roles.

Mike Claiborne will fill in when one or the other is not available.

Locally, the games can be heard on WGEM SportsRadio ESPN 105.1.

Streaming: The Cardinals make their lone appearance on the Peacock Network on June 4 when they play at Pittsburgh. The basic tier for Peacock, which carries the MLB games, is $4.99 a month.

Apple, which shows Friday doubleheaders, can pick up to four games to show exclusively but so far has only chosen the April 28 game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It requires an Apple TV + account which costs $6.99 per month.

ESPN and Fox: Several games will be broadcast, check listings for games and times. The Cardinals are scheduled for two appearances on ESPN and five games on Fox.

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